Social Study

CD 8 candidates Ron Barber and Jesse Kelly split on abortion, gay rights

While Social Security, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act (called Obamacare by critics) have been the front-and-center issues in the June 12 special election between Democrat Ron Barber and Republican Jesse Kelly, there are plenty of other issues on which the two candidates disagree.

Take abortion, an issue that has barely been discussed in the race, aside from an Arizona Democratic Party mailer telling voters that Kelly opposes abortion even in cases of rape, incest and when a mother's health is in danger.

In 2010, Kelly told the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative Christian lobbying group, that he thought abortions should be illegal unless continuing the pregnancy would result in the death of the mother.

Barber supports abortion rights as laid out in the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling.

"I support that (ruling) and support the right of a woman to make that decision, which is a very difficult one for the woman who has to make it," Barber said. "We don't need government or anyone else making that decision."

Barber was critical of a new state law that limits abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The law also redefined pregnancy as beginning at the end of a woman's last menstrual period, effectively prohibiting abortion as early as 18 weeks into pregnancy.

Barber spoke out against a new state law that blocks Planned Parenthood clinics from receiving any federal health-care dollars that flow through the state, even to provide low-income women with breast exams, cancer screenings, birth-control options, STD treatments or cancer screenings.

"No matter where you stand on the issue of abortion, what the governor did and the Legislature did to restrict access to women going to Planned Parenthood and other similar clinics was wrong," Barber said. "You can't use federal money for abortion, anyway, but what they did was take away important services for women, like mammograms, pap smears and family-planning services."

The candidates also split on gay rights.

President Barack Obama announced earlier in May that he personally supported the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, although he considered it to be an issue best left to individual states to decide.

At a March debate, Kelly condemned the idea of gay marriage and promised to back a federal constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

Kelly denounced the Obama administration's decision to stop defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that allows states to refuse to recognize gay marriages performed in other states, saying that "it's completely backwards, what has happened in this country.

"This is a no-brainer question," Kelly said. "I absolutely believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and for all the bailouts they have given, and the 'too big to fail' this and 'too big to fail' that, the only institution in this country that's too big to fail is the American family."

Barber said he opposes the idea of amending the U.S. Constitution to limit marriage to one man and one woman.

"Historically, amendments to the Constitution have been about expanding rights, ensuring rights and protecting rights, not taking away rights," Barber said.

Marriage confers important rights that gay and lesbian couples can't have in states where gay marriage is against the law, according to Barber.

"If people are willing and want to make a lifelong commitment to one another, they should be able to have the same kinds of benefits and relationship that my wife and I have," Barber said. "If loving people want to make a commitment, we should encourage that kind of commitment, not try to take it away."

On another gay-rights issue, Barber said the Obama administration and the Pentagon made the right call when they rescinded "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 2011.

"We've not seen problems with the policy being removed," Barber said. "This is somewhat clichéd by now, but I think what Barry Goldwater said years and years ago about gays in the military still fits: 'I don't care if they are straight, just as long as they can shoot straight.' If someone wants to serve their country and put their life on the line, it shouldn't matter what their sexual orientation is. I think the way the military went about changing that policy was wise and prudent."

In 2010, Kelly told the Weekly that moving to get rid of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy "was a terrible move and completely unnecessary. Right now, it's a unit-cohesion issue; it's a recruitment and retention issue."

Kelly, who served in the Marines for four years, including a stint in Iraq, said that knowing a fellow soldier was gay had a negative effect on other soldiers.

"Once someone was suspected of that, or thought of that way, there was nothing hateful coming out of it. It just affected the unit," Kelly said. "It may be an uncomfortable fact, but it is a fact."

Kelly recalled that a gay soldier he served with failed to measure up.

"I would never make the connection between his personal preferences and his performance on the job," Kelly said, "but I will tell you that this particular individual was the worst Marine I ever served with."